Lenore Skenazy, the author of Free Range Kids, wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal today. In the story — ‘Stranger Danger’ and the Decline of Halloween — she laments parental fear. How we all worry too much. In fact, she says that Halloween has become a testing ground for new parental fears. She even mocks laws that require registered sex offenders to abstain from giving out candy and asks them to keep their lights off. (Really, Lenore? Really?!?) Because, after all, Halloween is safe.
Lenore, you’re wrong. Last year, a nine-year-old girl in Nutley, N.J. was struck and killed by a car while she was out trick-or-treating. It happens more than you’d think. Halloween ties with New Year’s Eve when it comes to the highest number of pedestrian deaths, according to a study published in the journal Injury Prevention.
And even if they don’t necessarily get killed, they do get hurt — a lot — on Halloween, according to an April 5 study out of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. From the study: “From 1997 through 2006, an estimated 5,710,999 holiday-related injuries sustained by children who were aged ≤19 years presented to US [emergency departments]. The greatest number of injuries occurred on Labor Day followed by Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Halloween. Children who were younger than 5 years sustained a greater proportion of injuries than other age groups. The face, finger/hand, and head were the most commonly injured body parts. Lacerations, contusion/abrasions, fractures, and sprain/strains were the most common diagnoses.”
So while kids probably aren’t going to get sick or eat poison candy, there’s plenty out there that can and is harming them. Cars, of course, and other kids. Take my example. (Yes, I have my own Halloween horror story.) My brother was in his mid-teens, out driving with a friend. Someone egged their car. They stopped — stupid move. Within minutes the gang of kids pulled my brother from the car and beat him viciously. They knocked teeth loose. They bruised his spleen. They ripped his clothing off. My brother is a big guy. He looked like an adult even back then, and yet he was powerless against that mob of other teens.
My mom found out because some friends ran to our house and told her. She got there just as the police did. I can remember standing in the kitchen looking at him shaking, bloodied, and hurt. He spent a month with his jaw wired shut and braces on his teeth to fix all the damage. It wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t Halloween. The eggs wouldn’t have been thrown. The kids wouldn’t have been out at 8 p.m. on a school night.
So no, I don’t think parents are overreacting when they are afraid to let their little ones out on their own. Parents should have the option to go trick-or-treating with their kids, or to plan an alternate celebration if they live in a rural area or city where it would be too difficult or dangerous to go door-to-door. And as for Lenore’s idea that we’re all stranger-danger crazy? Well, I am, and I am proud of it. I agree with the Today Show quote that Lenore used that said, essentially, don’t let your children trick-or-treat without you “any earlier than [age] 13, because people put on masks, they put on disguises, and there are still people who do bad things.” Because yes, people do bad things.
True, people do bad things every night of the year, but my kids are in bed all those other nights. Why shouldn’t I be able to decide how they celebrate Halloween? (FWIW — and yes, I am digressing yet again: I also agree with the Today show staff that said kids should wear loose, comfortable costumes, and avoid over-sexualized, over-gory costumes. Why does Jane have to dress up like Lady Gaga and Joe have to be the guy from Saw to have fun?)
Lenore has built a platform on letting kids be kids. I get it, and I agree with it somewhat. We have to let our kids make mistakes and take chances. But Lenore, in your quest to be sensational and headline-grabbing, I think you’ve forgotten a salient point: There is something to be said for parental responsibility.